Sambar (Spicy Lentil Soup)

Sambar (Spicy Lentil Soup)

Sambar is a flavorful spicy South Indian lentil soup made with a variety of vegetables. It fits nicely with many South Indian meals, including dosas (pancakes), idlis (savory cakes), and rice. It could be said that a South Indian meal is incomplete without sambar.
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Course dal
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4 people


  • 1/2 cup toor dal/arhar dal available in any Indian grocery store
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tbsp turmeric (haldi)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds (jeera)
  • 1/8 tbsp fenugreek seed (methi)
  • 1/4 tbsp mustard seeds (rai)
  • Pinch of asafetida (hing)
  • 10-12 curry leaves
  • 4 dry whole red chilies
  • 1 large tomato cubed in small pieces
  • 1-½ cups mixed vegetables, cute into bite-size cubes (green beans, carrots, zucchini, radishes)
  • 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sambar powder, available in any Indian grocery store


  • Wash and soak the dal in two cups of water for ten minutes or longer.
  • In a pressure cooker combine soaked dal with 2½ cups of water, salt, and turmeric. Cook over medium high heat.
  • When the pressure cooker starts to steam, reduce the heat to medium and cook for another six minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and wait until steam has escaped before opening the pressure cooker. Dal should be soft and mushy.
  • Mix the dal well enough to remove lumps. If the dal is thick, add up to one cup of water.


Prepare Seasoning
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Test the heat by adding one cumin seed to the oil; if it cracks immediately, the oil is ready.
  2. Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, asafetida, red chilies, and curry leaves. Stir for a few seconds.
  3. Add tomatoes, vegetables, sambar powder, tamarind pulp and ½ cup water.
  4. Cover the pan and let the vegetables cook until they are tender over medium heat.
  5. Combine the vegetables and the dal to make the Sambar.  Sambar should be thin, like soup. If the sambar is thick, add water as needed.
  6. Cook sambar on low heat for 10-15 minutes.
Serve Sambar with dosa, idli, rice or with any meal as a side.
Keyword Dal
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Introduction to Sambar: A Traditional South Indian Delight

Sambar is a quintessential South Indian dish that holds a cherished place in Indian cuisine. This sambar recipe is a delightful combination of sambar dal, vegetables, and aromatic spices, creating a flavorful and nutritious sambar masala. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to make sambar step by step, incorporating tips, variations, and benefits to elevate your culinary experience.

Step 1: Preparing the Sambar Masala

To begin making sambar, it’s essential to prepare the sambar masala, which is the heart of this dish. In a pan, dry roast coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns, dried red chilies, and curry leaves until they emit a fragrant aroma. Grind these roasted spices into a fine powder using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. This freshly ground sambar masala will infuse the dish with authentic flavors, enhancing its taste and aroma.

Step 2: Cooking the Sambar Dal

Next, let’s focus on cooking the sambar dal until it’s soft and mushy. Rinse the lentils thoroughly and pressure cook them with water until they reach a smooth consistency. You can also cook them in a pot on the stovetop, but pressure cooking will expedite the process. Once the sambar dal is cooked, mash it gently with a ladle to achieve a creamy texture, ensuring it blends seamlessly with the other ingredients in the sambar.

Step 3: Preparing the Vegetables

One of the beauties of sambar lies in its versatility, allowing you to incorporate a variety of vegetables based on personal preference and seasonal availability. Common choices include drumsticks, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, okra, and tomatoes. Wash and chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces, ensuring uniformity for even cooking. Each vegetable adds its unique flavor and texture to the sambar, contributing to its rich and hearty profile.

Step 4: Tempering the Sambar

Tempering, also known as tadka or chaunk, is a crucial step in Indian cooking that involves blooming whole spices in hot oil to release their essence. In a separate pan, heat ghee or oil and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, and dried red chilies. Allow the spices to sizzle and crackle, infusing the oil with their aroma. Pour this aromatic tempering over the cooked sambar dal and vegetables, imparting depth and complexity to the dish.

Step 5: Simmering and Seasoning

Once the sambar is assembled with the tempered spices, allow it to simmer gently over low heat, allowing the flavors to meld together harmoniously. Season the sambar with salt, tamarind paste, and jaggery or sugar to achieve the perfect balance of tanginess and sweetness. Adjust the seasoning according to your taste preferences, ensuring each spoonful of sambar delights your palate with its well-rounded flavors.

Step 6: Garnishing and Serving

Before serving, garnish the sambar with fresh cilantro leaves, enhancing its visual appeal and adding a burst of freshness. Serve the piping hot sambar alongside steamed rice, idli, dosa, or vada for a wholesome and satisfying meal. The interplay of textures and flavors in this traditional South Indian delicacy is sure to tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.

Tips for Perfecting Your Sambar Recipe

  • Use Fresh Ingredients: Opt for fresh spices, vegetables, and lentils to ensure the best flavor and texture in your sambar.
  • Balance the Flavors: Adjust the proportions of tamarind paste, jaggery, and salt to achieve the perfect balance of sour, sweet, and savoury notes in your sambar.
  • Experiment with Vegetables: Don’t hesitate to experiment with different combinations of vegetables to create unique variations of sambar tailored to your liking.
  • Temper with Care: Take care not to burn the spices while tempering, as it can impart a bitter taste to the sambar. Maintain medium heat and keep a close eye on the tempering process.
  • Allow for Resting Time: Let the sambar rest for a few minutes after cooking to allow the flavors to develop fully before serving.

Variations of Sambar

  • Mixed Vegetable Sambar: Incorporate a medley of seasonal vegetables such as pumpkin, beans, and bell peppers for a colorful and nutritious twist on the classic sambar.
  • Tiffin Sambar: Prepare a thinner version of sambar specifically paired with idli, dosa, or vada, featuring a lighter consistency and a higher proportion of tamarind for tanginess.
  • Kadamba Sambar: This variation of sambar includes a diverse range of vegetables along with freshly ground spices, lending it a robust and hearty character ideal for special occasions.

Benefits of Including Sambar in Your Diet

  • Rich in Protein: Sambar is a rich source of protein due to the inclusion of lentils, making it a nourishing option for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Loaded with Vitamins and Minerals: The array of vegetables in sambar provides essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre, promoting overall health and well-being.
  • Digestive Aid: The spices and herbs in sambar, such as cumin, fenugreek, and curry leaves, possess digestive properties that aid in digestion and alleviate digestive discomfort.
  • Low in Calories: Despite its hearty and satisfying nature, sambar is relatively low in calories, making it a guilt-free indulgence for those watching their calorie intake.
  • Boosts Immunity: The antioxidants present in the spices and vegetables in sambar help strengthen the immune system and protect the body against various infections and diseases.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) About Sambar

  • Can I make sambar without tamarind paste? 
  • Yes, you can substitute tamarind paste with lemon juice or dried mango powder (amchur) for a tangy flavor in your sambar.
  • Is sambar gluten-free
  • Yes, sambar is naturally gluten-free as long as no wheat-based ingredients such as asafoetida powder (hing) are used in the recipe. You can use gluten-free asafoetida or omit it altogether to ensure the dish is gluten-free.
  • Can I make sambar ahead of time? 
  • Yes, you can prepare sambar in advance and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop or microwave before serving.
  • Can I freeze leftover sambar? 
  • While it’s technically possible to freeze leftover sambar, the texture of the vegetables and lentils may change upon thawing, resulting in a slightly altered consistency. It’s best to consume fresh sambar for optimal taste and texture.

If you’re looking to explore more Indian recipes, appetizers, beverages, and desserts, be sure to check out the following links on Manjula’s Kitchen. Here are some links to recipes on Manjula’s Kitchen official website: Vegetable Pakoras, Kaju Katli (Cashew Burfi), Baingan Bharta (Roasted Eggplant), Matar (Green Peas) Paneer, Besan Ladoo.

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51 thoughts on “Sambar (Spicy Lentil Soup)

  1. Can you store samba in the freezer, I am looking for gravy that i can prepare at home for work and put in the freezer to serve with fresh rice. any pointers?

  2. This sambar recipe is one of my favorites. It does take some extra time to make the tamarind paste but I like making it myself rather than using the ready-made kind.

    I’ve tried different vegetables for some variety, my favorites are corn, green beans, peas and carrots. Little pieces of cauliflower are also delicious.

    I always make a big batch of sambar so I can enjoy it for a while!

    Thank you so much for the recipe!

  3. Hi Manjula!just few words to thank you for your website and these delicious recipes, I’m not Indian and before to find your website I thought Indian recipes are too difficult for me, Alhamdulillah I found out this beautiful website and whatever I’ve tried it has always been successful (I’ve already tried your chickpeas rice, masala zucchini, cucumber salad, sambar, masala tea, palak paneer) thank you so so so so much!!!!

  4. Auntie Ji, thanks so much for all the kind work you do. The Sambar is exactly what I fell in love with at the Ashram. Just wonderful. So many more things to try, you have given me the tools to cook like I was born Indian. Again thanks so much Manjula, the hard work you do is beyond words.

  5. I have a Fagor pressure cooker that looks like the one you are using; it is the smaller 4 qt. size, and the other piece is an 8 qt.

    My husband thinks it is a larger one; can you clear this up for me.

    I am happy to see that you did not (or I did not see you do it on screen) oil the rubber gasket. I have been afraid not to oil it because the beans foam so much. But your beans seem to work fine. Can you tell me if you did oil the gasket.

  6. Hello Manjula,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to create this wonderful website.

    Can you recommend a good brand of Sambhar powder for this recipe? I have found a bewildering variety of different brands (MTR, Gits, MDH, Aachi, etc.) at the local Indian grocery store and would appreciate a suggestion of a top brand to choose.

    1. For toor dal, it usually takes 30 to 40 mins covered at a med low heat. Turning the heat higher doesn’t really make it cook faster, it just makes it more likely it will boil over or foam up and make a mess.

      Years ago, the preference was to use “oily” toor dal, I don’t really know why though my ex-husband (from Vijayawada) used to speculate that the oily dal was “cleaner” (less stones and dust). He didn’t really know either though. These days, I only use the “dry” toor dal. I don’t think I’ve seen “oily” toor dal for years, but should you come across both varieties, I’d suggest sticking with the dry toor dal. The difference will be obvious if you have them side by side.

  7. I’m absolutely in love with your website !!!! I’ve just started to become a vegetarian and I was really struggling, I wasn’t real familiar with Indian cooking.You have helped me so much I love your recipes and the videos give me the confidence to try them!!! please keep doing this you have helped me so much, I truly thank you !

  8. I prefer to buy the tamarind concentrate Tamcon rather than go through the work of soaking tamarind pods. I’m never sure how to use it though. Do you use it? How would one use it?

    1. Hi Harvey
      If using tamarind pods (Imli), take a walnut sized ball of it and soak it in hot water. The water should be just enough to cover the pods. Let it stand for 15 minutes. Now use your hand to crush and extract the juice. Pass through a sieve, pressing to get all the juice out. Use this in the recipes, as needed. Enjoy!

    2. If you’re using tamarind concentrate like Tamcon instead of the whole tamarind, I usually use about half the tamarind concentrate as tamarind paste specified in the recipe. If it calls for “a walnut size piece” of tamarind, I’ll use 1 T plus 2 T of very hot water. If it calls for a “lemon size piece of tamarind”, I’ll use 2 T of the concentrate dissolved in 1/4 c of very hot water.

      If you’re putting the tamarind in a dry curry, use the least amount of water to dissolve the concentrate. Store open Tamcon or other brands of tamarind concentrate in the fridge after opening.

    1. u could use 1 ts chilli powder and 1 to 2 ts malli powder instesd of sambar powder..isteard of red chilli u can replace with 1 green chill which gives great taste.

      1. Thank you for the link, we were unable to find it made in our local NH Indian Food Stores. This did the trick.

        We do not have a spice grinder so I used the Coffee maker with a built in bean grinder.

        I have to say the coffee was a bit odd tasting the next time but the sambar was worth it!

  9. Hi Manjula,

    I love your site.
    I have made many things from it.
    I am making sambar tomrrow.
    It brings back memories of my time in Rameswaram.

    Thank you for creating this site.

    1. Idli is a typical south indian break fast, best accomplishes with sambhar and chutney…
      1)take a 250 ml glass for measurement..
      2)soak 6 glasses of idli rice (variety name IR 20.,available in groceries ) and 1 glass of white urad dhall with 1 ts methi(fenu greek seed) seperatly for 3 hours,for 12 glass of rice, urad is only 13/4 glass .,not 2……
      3) first grind urad with little water for 45 minutes in grinder…… must be very spongy
      4)then rice until it becomes very smooth, almost 1 hr……
      5 )now mix both mixture with 3 ts salt in a vessel using hand which helps fermentation
      6)after 6 hours it can be used to make idli
      7) after 24 hours with lttle more water you can use the same to make dosa

  10. Hello Manjula ji, I regularly see your coocking art and appreciate your services to the whole vegitarian as well other coocking community.My best woshes are with you. Live long.

  11. Hello Manjula Aunty,
    I read almost all your receipes and have tried a few as well. The ones that I have tried turned out good. I love your website. This is great!
    Which brand of sambar powder do you use? There are quite a few out there. I have tried to make sambar in the past but it seems like something is missing. I will definitely try your recipe.


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